Things You Can’t Do Until You’re 21….

Voting is not one of them…  anymore. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Maybe you’ve heard this slogan. For anyone growing up in the seventies, this is a familiar slogan, used to encourage the ratification of our 26th Amendment. Prior to July 7, 1971 you were eligible to be drafted for the Vietnam War before you could vote for the President of the United States. If you haven’t guessed by now, the 26th Amendment states:

“Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age. Section 2: The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Since we are moving in reverse order, a little history is needed to understand why this Constitutional Amendment is so important. When the fourteenth Amendment was ratified, it stated in a round-about way that you had to be 21 in order to vote. States had the ability to grant voting rights to individuals who were younger but at maximum, any male 21 years old or older was given the right to vote (remember, we’re talking 14th Amendment- 1860’s, women were not guaranteed the right to vote until the 1920’s with the 19th Amendment).

What’ is interesting about the 26th Amendment is that it came about in the 1970’s, in response to conscription for Vietnam. However, if you are following the time line and know your history, you’d be aware that drafts did not begin with Vietnam. Conscription was used for both World War I and World War II, thanks to the Selective Service Act President Wilson signed in 1917 (making draft ages 18 to 45) and again when President F. Roosevelt signed the Selective Service and Training Act in 1940 (draft ages changed to 18 to 35 after the attack on Pearl Harbor). Now before we start a debate on the Constitutionality of conscription, Article 1, Section 8 states that Congress can “raise and support armies.”

So the question is, why is the 26th Amendment important today? Is it still relevant? Absolutely, it is relevant, as any eighteen-year-old can tell you. I could not wait to cast my first Presidential ballot. I was finally a true adult, with all the responsibilities therein; which is why this Amendment is still important and bringing about controversy. Generally, we use this Amendment as the legal marker for adulthood. However, the age of consent in each state vastly differs. By age of consent, I do not just mean the age at which a person is able to make the decision to have consensual sexual relations, but also make adult decisions without their parent or legal guardian being informed. This includes things like obtaining birth control, getting an abortion, seeing a doctor or psychologist, having blood tests performed, get married, etc. So, should we institute a new Amendment lowering the legal voting age to reflect the other life-changing decisions granted to younger and younger teenagers or, should states align their age of consent with this Amendment?

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